Jamming Robot will Destroy You at Beer Pong

DSC_0363Wandering the aisles of Eureka Park, the startup area of the Consumer Electronics Show, I spotted a mob of people and sauntered over to see what the excitement was all about. Peeking over this gentleman’s shoulder I realized he was getting spanked at Beer Pong… by a robot!

Those in the know will recognize that the bot has only 3 cups left and so the guy definitely was giving it run for its money. But the bot’s ability to swish the ball on nearly every throw accounts for the scoreboard which read Robot: 116, Humans: 11. Unlike the ping pong robot hoax from last March, we can vouch for this one being real!

If you’re trying to attract the geek demographic, this must be one of the best offerings ever shown at a trade show. Empire Robotics manufactures the VERSABALL gripper. We know this as a jamming gripper and have been looking at the tech progress for many years now. Looking back to this Cornell research video from 2010 we realize it is based on the white paper which [John Amend, PhD] co-authored. He’s now CTO and Co-Founder of the company and was one of the people running the booth. We love it when trade show booths are staffed by the engineers!

Join me after the break for a rundown of how the system works along with a video clip of it hitting the target.

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CES: Meetups, Augmented Reality, and Robots

Hackaday started off Thursday of the Consumer Electronics Show with an impromptu breakfast meetup. This turns out to be a wonderful thing as it lets you ease into a 16 hour day of standing, walking, talking, and getting lost trying to find your way from conference hall to conference hall. We had a great turnout and many brought their hacks and demos to show off. A big thanks to the Sambalatte staff who are awesome people and top tier baristas.



Before leaving for CES I was talking to [Ben Krasnow] about what we should try to see and he suggested looking for private showings that are given in the suites of the hotels at the conference. Turns out our friends at Technical Illusions are doing just that. [Jeri] and [Rick] were showing off CastAR in a suite during the week and were nice enough to make room in their booked schedule for a private Demo.

What you see above are the guts of the version they are currently shipping as part of their Kickstarter fulfillment. I also got a look at a rev2 prototype and will write a follow-up post with more information on the whole experience when I have more time.

Eureka, Startups!

There is a loop of aisles in the Sands that has startup booths and most of the interesting things I saw on Wednesday and Thursday are there. Here we have a jamming gripper robot arm. It’s designed for things like moving oddly shaped goods on a manufacturing line. Empire Robotics hit a homerun with their demo for the booth, a take on beer-bong: robot versus human. The scoreboard showed the robot winning an order of magnitude more than the humans.

[Todd] was at was at the Tinkerines booth showing off 3D printers aimed to augmented the STEM curriculum. We couldn’t help but notice his TIE fighter right and inquired about it. He modeled the design himself, send it off to be cast in silver, and inlaid the stone when the ring came back from the casting service. Sweet!


[Sarah Petkus] clued me in and gave me a ride to the Pololu CES open house. The night coincided with the LVBots meetup which they support by providing space for the meetings. There were lots of cool robots being shown off. What you see here was just the pre-meeting warmup of line-followers and sumo robots. I shot some video of the show-and-tell which we’ll post once we’ve had a chance to edit the content.

Closing out CES

wpid-wp-1420824368323.jpegToday is the last day of the conference. I stopped by the Voltera PCB printer booth yesterday but they were nowhere to be found. Turns out they were being handed a $50k check by TechCrunch for winning the Battleground. I suppose we’ll give them a pass for not being at the table during that!

I’ll be headed over this afternoon to catch up with them. I’m also hoping to get a look at the Voxel8 printer. If you have any other “can’t-miss” suggestions let me know in the comments and I’ll try to add them to my CES dance card.

Air-powered gripper design makes them easy to produce


This invertebrate gripper uses air pressure to grab onto objects. The secret is all in the design. But you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If you’ve got a 3D printer you can follow this guide to make your own.

The gripper is made of silicone. The trick is in designing an inner structure that deforms in one direction when pressurized. To make one or one hundred, simply download the design files and 3D print a mold. The process from there is much like the silicone band prototyping process we looked at back in March. The two-part silicone is mixed and poured in the mold. You also need to pour some on a flat surface. We were under the impression that uncured silicone would not stick to cured silicone but we were wrong. The two parts are glued together with a fresh batch of the mix. After everything has set up you can pierce the bladder with a hose in order to inject air.

Below you can see the star-shaped version being tested. There’s also a Harvard research video which shows a similar design lifting an egg.

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Dead simple jamming gripper design


This jamming gripper design is the simplest we’ve seen so far. It uses a syringe to generate the suction necessary for the orange appendage to grip an object.

As with previous offerings this uses coffee grounds inside of a balloon. When pressed against an object the grounds flow around it. When a vacuum is applied to the balloon those grounds are locked in place, jamming themselves around the item for a firm grip. About a year ago we saw a hardware-store grade design which used a vacuum pump for suction and a shower head as the gripper body. This time around the plastic syringe serves as both.

The plastic tip was cut away and the resulting hole covered with a cloth to keep the coffee in place. After installing the coffee-filled balloon the grip can be operated by pulling the plunger to lock the grounds in place. It’s not going to be as easy to automate as a pump-based rig. But if you just want to toy with the concept this is the way to go.

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Jamming gripper that’s super easy to build

This is the simplest version of a jamming gripper that we’ve seen yet. The only component that might not be readily available is the pump in the upper left, but the rest is all hardware or grocery store stuff. It’s based on the concept we saw from a research video where the air in a bladder full of coffee grounds is removed to grip an item. In this case the bladder is a party balloon which is held in place by parts from a cheap shower head. A theaded-to-barbed right angle connector makes it easy to connect the vinyl tubing up to the pump.

The video after the break shows that this works quite well for small items. But we see a lot of downward force is exerted to firmly embed them in the grounds. We’re not sure if this is par for the course, or if it would work a bit better if more air were in the bladder initially. This other jamming gripper build uses a servo to release pressure from the system, and we think that might be of help here too.

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Wall climbing robot uses supersonic grippers


Watch out Spidey, there’s a new wall climber in town!

Researchers [Matthew Journee, XiaoQi Chen, James Robertson, Mark Jermy, and Mathieu Sellier] recently unveiled their wall climbing wonder bot at the 2011 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation. Like most other wall climbing bots, theirs operates on the Bernoulli principle to keep it stuck to the surface, but that’s where the similarities end.

Unlike other Bernoulli-based climbers, this robot’s gripper never actually touches the surface it is climbing. The researchers were able to accomplish this feat by designing a specialized gripper which forces air through a 25 μm gap, creating a very powerful low pressure vortex. The gripper’s design compresses the air by shape alone, causing the air flow to reach speeds of Mach 3, without relying on powerful pumps or increased air volume.

The researchers state that their supersonic gripper can support about five times the weight of a conventional Bernoulli gripper, and as you can see in the video below it also has no problem climbing a wide variety of surfaces.

Window-washing Roomba, here we come!

[via Make]

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Jamming gripper completes robot drug dealer

Here’s an inexpensive way to build your own jamming gripper. [Steve Norris] combined a robot arm with a few inexpensive items to achieve similar results as the original. Much like the last DIY version he started with a balloon and some coffee grounds, but instead of using his own body as a vacuum pump he sourced a Reynolds Handi-Vac, an inexpensive food vacuum sealer. It connects to the balloon using some plastic tubing, and sucks all of the air out, locking the coffee grounds around an object for a firm grip. The video after the break even shows the gripper picking up two aspirin. At first we thought a servo motor was being used to seal off the tube once the air had been pumped out. Instead, it is covering a hole in the tubing, which breaks the vacuum when it’s time to let go of an object.

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